COMMENTARY The Minister of Infrastructure has wrongly attacked Kaniva News and Democratic Leader Semisi Sika in an article published by the VPON webpage yesterday.
‘Akosita claimed we attempted to interfere with the judiciary system after Sika called on her to resign ahead of her two separate fraud trials which are expected to start next Monday March 29 followed by another on April 12.
She also questioned Sika’s ground for comments saying no court has “proven beyond reasonable doubt” that she has committed any crimes.
She also criticised Sika for using Kaniva to echo his concerns saying he should understand “separation of powers”.
She told us there was no legal basis for her to resign and that she can’t wait for the day to come so she can make her case in court.
‘Akosita was responding after we ran an article yesterday headed: Sēmisi Sika: “Infrastructure Minister ‘Akosita Lavulavu should ‘volunteer to resign’ ahead of her two separate fraud trials”
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It has to be underlined that there was no suggestion in the article that ‘Akosita was found guilty by any courts or committed any offence or that we criticised any decision by the court over her two fraud charges. Her court cases have yet to be heard and for her to say we attempted to interfere with the judiciary in dealing with her cases was utterly baseless and a mere attempt to mislead the public.
The Opposition & Media roles
The Opposition’s main role in democratic countries is to question the government of the day and hold them accountable. The Opposition utilises the media to reach voters “with its views and to establish an identity as an alternative government.”
The call by Sika for ‘Akosita to resign was part of his responsibilities as the Leader of the Opposition to hold her to account for the accusations against her because she is required to be accountable to the public and the people who have elected her to Parliament.
Earlier this month the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly Lord Fakafanua launched the first ever Parliamentary Reporters’ Handbook for the Tongan media.
The Lord Speaker said “that Parliament and the Media in Tonga share a mutual symbiotic relationship; one where the Assembly relies on the media to deliver their messages, opinions, and decisions to the public. This is while the media closely follows and scrutinizes the work of MPs”.
‘Akosita appears to have downplayed attempts by our Parliament of which she is a member to upgrade and gave more space to media freedom in Tonga.
Separation of power & Checks and Balances
‘Akosita should know that media is the fourth estate or pillar of democracy along with judiciary, executive and legislature.
Our roles included checking on each other through “procedures set in place to reduce mistakes, prevent improper behavior, or decrease the risk of centralization of power”.
“Media of today has an all embracing role to act against the injustice, oppression, misdeeds and partiality of our society”.
We do not suggest that ‘Akosita has committed any offence but we act “as watchdog to protect public interest against malpractice and create public awareness.”
The Minister should understand better as she and his husband ’Etuate Lavulavu owned a newspaper and a radio station in which ‘Etuate used to attack the government’s critics and held the Opposition to account.
Resignations vs court judgement
The Minister is absolutely correct in saying that she never broke any laws in relation to her fraud cases. That is a matter for the courts to decide.
Unfortunately, that is not the point. There does not have to be a court judgement to be made for a Cabinet Minister to resign once they came under the spotlight. And the Tongan courts have no constitutional power to order her to resign. The mere fact that she has been accused and charged with two separate fraud cases, not just one, was enough for her to resign.
Cabinet Ministers’ credibility is a pivotal asset. Meaning they have to be honest. It means avoiding any activities, work or nonwork, that may harm the reputation of their office or the State services. And they have to do their best to protect that reputation.
Lessons from New Zealand & Australia
Being regarded as an honest and trustworthy Minister is not just about avoiding criminal activity or being cleared by a court decision. It is about understanding the difference between corruption and accusations and acknowledging that what is seen as the potential to cause the public to lose trust is just as great a concern than actually being found guilty in a court.
Most of the Cabinet Ministers in New Zealand and Australia who resigned because of any connection to corruption, accusations, allegations or indictments did so without having to wait until a court decision was made on their cases.
They wanted to step down as soon as they can possibly do to keep any criticisms and concerns against the government at bay.
This was seen when the New Zealand Health Minister David Clark formally resigned last year after “controversies in his handling of the Covid-19 response”.
Clark said: “”But it has become increasingly clear to me that my continuation in the role is distracting from the government’s overall response to COVID-19″.
In 2010, a New Zealand cabinet minister Phil Heatley resigned voluntarily “after finding an error in his expense accounts”. At the time, PM John Key offered him a chance to stand down but Heatley wanted to resign.
Key told media at the time, he would return Heatley if an investigation would clear him. And it happened. The investigation cleared him and Heatley’s ministerial role was reinstated.
Last year Three South Australian ministers and the state’s Legislative Council president resigned over the State Government’s expenses saga.
One of them was Premier Steven Marshall who said after he resigned: “The distractions of the past week have been extraordinarily disappointing and unacceptable.
“I don’t believe there has been deliberate dishonesty … but it’s very clear this is a distraction the Government doesn’t need”.
Whale watching licenses case
The Minister insisting that we should leave it to the courts to make decision in which she implied would be the only way to justify a resignation was balderdash.
Last year the Supreme Court warned ‘Akosita to follow the law and reinstated whale watching licenses she denied to a group of companies
The Minister was ordered to pay the plaintiffs’ costs.
If this was a case in New Zealand or Australia it is believed she was told to resign.
But what is most important here is that she was tried in court and she was found to have broken the law and she never resigned.
Now she is telling us after she had been charged for frauds and knowingly dealing with forged documents and obtaining credit by false pretenses she would not resign because the courts have yet to make decisions against her cases.
FAKAMATALA NOUNOU FAKATONGA
‘Oku totonu ke mahino ki he Minisitā ‘O e Ngaahi Ngāue Lalahi’ ko e fatongia mu’omu’a ia mo mahu’inga ‘o e Fa’ahi Fakaanga ‘o ha Fale Alea pea tatau mo e mitia ke nau ‘omai ‘a e kau minisita pe kau fakafofonga Fale Alea kuo fai hanau tukuaki’i ke nau fakamatala mo fakahoko ‘a e me’a ‘oku totonu ke nau fai’ ‘ke vakai ki ai ‘a e kakai’. Ko ia ai ko e lau na’e fai ‘e Semisi Sika ‘i he Kaniva ‘o ne ui kia ‘Akosita ke fakafisi tu’unga he’ene ongo hopo lalahi ‘e ua ‘oku hanga mai’ ko e fatongia totonu ia ‘o ‘ona. Pea na’e fai ‘i he laumalie lelei he na’e ‘i ai ‘ene poini’ ko ‘ene pehe ke malu’i e ngeia ‘o e kapineti’. Ko ‘ene ngāue’aki ‘a e mitia’ ki hono fatongia ko ia’ ‘oku toe totonu pe mo ia he ko e ngafa ia ‘o e mitia’ ke nau fakaongo atu e fakakaukau mo e lau ‘a e kau taki ‘o e fonua’ kau ai ‘a e Fa’ahi Fakaanga’. Ko e pehē ‘e ‘Akosita tokua ‘oku kei tonuhia pe ia te’eki fakahalaia’i ia ‘i fale hopo ‘oku ta’e ‘uhinga ia he ‘oku ‘ikai ko e angamaheni ia ‘o e fakafisi ‘a ha minisitā pe Fakafofonga Fale Alea ke toki tu’utu’uni ha fakamaau’anga pea nau fakafisi’. Pea ‘oku ‘ikai ha mafai pehe ia ‘o e fakamaau’anga’. Na’e ‘osi mo’ua ‘a ‘Akosita i he Fakamaau’anga lahi ‘ ‘i hono faka’ilo ia ko e ‘ikai ke ne foaki ‘a e ngaahi laiseni mamata’anga tofua’a ki ha kulupu ‘o ha ngaahi kautaha. Pea na’e tautea ai ia ke ne totongi ‘a e fakamole ‘a e ngaahi kautaha ki he hopo ko ia’. Ne ‘osi totonu ke fakafisi pe ia he fo’i keisi ko ia’ he kuo’ ne maumau’i e lao ‘a e pule’anga’. Ko ‘ene lave ‘o pehē ‘oku feinga ‘a e Kaniva’ mo e taki ‘o e Fa’ahi Fakaanga’ ke kaunoa ‘i he fakamaau’anga ‘oku hala mama’o mo ia mo ta’e ‘uhinga. ‘E lau ia ko e ta’efaka’apa’apa ki he fakamaau’anga kapau te mau kaunoa ka na’e ‘ikai ha fakamatala pehe ‘e taha ‘e ha atu ‘i he Kaniva’. Ko hono mo’oni ko ‘ena feinga mo e uepi ‘a e VPON ke fakangali kovi’i e fatongia totonu pe ia ‘o e Kaniva mo Semisi Sika. Ko ‘ena tukuaki’i ne ‘ikai hano makatu’unga pea ‘ikai te na lava ‘o kuouti pe to’o hangatonu mai mei he ongoongo na’e pulusi’ ko e fe ‘a e me’a ai ‘oku mau kaunoa ai he fakamaau’anga. Ko Nu’u Sila’ mo ‘Aositelēlia ko e ongo fonua ia ‘oku na toutou fai ha ngaahi uekasopu mo e Fale Alea ‘o Tonga ‘i hono feinga’i ke fakahinohino ‘a e founga ngāue ki hona ongo Fale Alea’. Pea ko e founga ‘i Nu’u Sila’ ni mo ‘Aositelēlia ko ‘ene tukuaki’i pe ha minisitā ko e lahi taha’ fakafisi pe minisita ko ia ‘iate ia ‘ikai toe tali ia ke ō ‘o fakatonutonu ‘i ha hopo. Pea ‘oku fakafisi e ni’ih kae lele e fakatotolo pea ‘osi ange ‘oku nau tonuhia pea ‘oku fakafoki pe kinautolu ki honau lakanga’. Ko e me’a totonu ia ke fai ‘i Tonga ke taau mo e lotu ‘aukai ‘a e ‘Eiki Palemia ‘oku fua hono fakamole mei he tukuhau ‘a e kakai’. ‘Oku totonu ke ho’ata mai ‘a e lotu ko ia’ ‘i he to’onga ‘a e kau minisitaa’. ‘Oku totonu ke fakafaikehekehe’i ‘e ‘Akosita ‘a e me’a ‘oku ui ko e tukuaki’i’ pea mo e me’a ‘oku ui ko e halaia ‘i fale hopo ko e ongo me’a kehekehe ‘aupito ia ‘i he pule fakatemokalati. Ko e tukuaki’i pe ‘iate ia ko e halanga ia ki he pau ke fakafisi. He ‘oku ‘ikai fiema’u ke kei nofo hu’uhu’u e kau totongi tukuhau mo mahalo kovi he’ene kei ma’u ‘a e mafai ke ala holo he’enau koloa mo nofo honau ‘ofisi mo fai e ngaahi sevesi ma’a kinautolu lolotonga ‘oku’ ne fe’ao holo mo hono fu’u tukuaki’ mamafa. ‘Oku totonu ke fai mo a’usia ‘e Tonga e maama fakasivilaise ko ia’. He ka ‘ikai ‘e fakatupu ai ‘a e ta’emelino mo e ta’efalala ki he pule’anga fakalukufua o hange pe ko ‘eni ‘oku ma’ave’ave he taimi ni he tukuaki’i ko ‘eni ‘o ‘Akosita’. Pea ko e ‘uhinga ia ‘oku ‘ai ai ‘e mamani mo e ngaahi pule’anga sivilaise ke fakafisi ha minisita pe ‘oku tukuaki’i koe’uhi kae ‘atā pea ma’a pe fatongia’ ke hoko atu ngāue mo fai tau’atāina ma’a e kakai’.